Shawnee News-Star Sunday April 22nd 2018 Becky Emerson Carlberg Today is Earth Day 2018.   It was as if I was strolling along the beach this morning.   The sounds of seagulls squealing and calling were faint but got louder as the birds approached from the southeast.   As they flew overhead, the group assembled in V formation […]

Shawnee News-Star Sunday April 22nd 2018

Dogwood Blossom

Becky Emerson Carlberg

Today is Earth Day 2018.   It was as if I was strolling along the beach this morning.   The sounds of seagulls squealing and calling were faint but got louder as the birds approached from the southeast.   As they flew overhead, the group assembled in V formation and continued flying to the northwest. I suppose they should be called gulls since the sea is a far piece from my home.   If they were Franklin's Gulls, the ones that follow tractors in the fields, the early settlers knew them as 'Prairie Doves.'   These gulls win the prize for migrating long distances.   Franklin's gulls overwinter in Chili and Peru.   In spring they leave South America and fly through the middle of North America to nest in the northern Great Plains and central Canada.   That's a 5,000 mile one-way trip. The direction is reversed in the fall. The gulls undergo a complete feather molt and regrowth of new feathers before each flight because of wear and tear. By my calculations, the birds had already flown nearly 4,000 miles by the time they soared above my head.   The long journey seemed not to affect their voices in the least.   Why so far?   Nature works in mysterious ways.

I know you are sitting on the edge of your seat waiting to hear how the cherry trees fared at the Tidal Basin in Washington D.C. this year.   Peak bloom arrived April 5th, but the trees held onto their flowers until April 12th. The petals began falling like gentle rains until thunderstorms last Sunday cleansed the trees and washed the petals away.   Perfect timing since the cherry blossom festival ended that day!

Gull in Flight

Let's go to central Tokyo and walk down the steps near the Todoroki railroad station at Setagaya Park.   Take the walking path that follows the Yazawa River downstream, tributary of one of Japan's largest rivers.   Listen to the sound of moving water, the singing of birds and the rustling of leaves on Japanese oaks, cherry trees and dogwoods. Can you believe you are in the middle of a huge city?   Wait. Dogwoods?

In 1912 the Mayor of Tokyo presented cherry trees to the United States.   Two trees were planted at the Tidal Basin in Washington D.C. by our First Lady Helen Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador.   These were the first of over 3,000 trees to be planted.   Our capital city responded in 1915 by sending dogwood seeds and saplings to Tokyo. Today their descendants shade parts of Tokyo.   In Shimokitazawa our native dogwoods (Cornus florida) line its narrow streets and alleyways along with the native Japanese dogwoods (Cornus kousa).   The difference between the two is the Japanese dogwood flowers a month later and the flower bracts are pointed.   Our native dogwood bracts are rounded with small notches.   Both species of dogwoods add to extended beauty of Tokyo in the spring as do the Japanese cherry trees in Washington D.C.

Today is Earth Day.   This year's goal is to end plastic pollution by 2020; a gigantic challenge in Oklahoma.  I can walk down any local road and collect countless numbers of plastic sacks, containers, wrappers, eating utensils, packing materials and other petroleum-based products.   The question: how did the plastic get here?   Tossed from the immaculate insides of vehicles, floated out from pickup truck beds after being emptied of food for cattle, deer, wildlife, chickens and dogs, or carried in the Oklahoma wind away from stores, malls, garbage trucks.

Why so much plastic?   Oklahoma has few recycling programs and offers little motivation or encouragement to handle the amount of plastic we buy and toss, which eventually finds its way into creeks and rivers.   Most of our groceries, toiletries, cleaning supplies, phones, computers(the list is endless) are packed in plastics. Even plastic is wrapped in plastic. Know how long it takes a plastic bag to decompose?   Usually hundreds of years.   Foam plastic cups?   50 years.   Plastic bottles?   450 years.   Disposable diapers and sanitary pads?   250-500 years.   Those long chain carbons do not biodegrade rapidly.

Microplastics have entered the food chain.   You eat food?   The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, composed of 80,000 tons of plastic, continues to grow.   Two times larger than Texas, the collection of man-made debris has been created by ocean currents between California and Japan.   The South Pacific, Indian, North and South Atlantic oceans all have their plastic floating dumps.   Plastic bits are found inside dead and living fish and other marine life.   Plastic kills.   What a legacy.

The good news is the plastic epidemic can be ended. by us, since we caused it.   Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.   Check OKRA (clever; it is the Oklahoma Recycling Association) website at for general recycling information.

Examine your own lifestyle; look at what you use and consume. How is it packaged?    Cut back on accumulating so much stuff.   Take the trouble to put canvas bags in your car before you shop.   Since most fruits and veggies already have ID stickers on them, do you really need those flimsy plastic sacks?   Buy your corn still wrapped in husks, not naked and covered in plastic and Styrofoam (not biodegradable.) In other words, fruits and veggies are best in their natural state, and we're not talking about Arkansas.

Plastic and Styrofoam found along the road

Do not grab the plastic cap and straw and cover your disposable drink cup before you suck it down and throw it out wherever.   Man, that is so trashy and wasteful. Let your sensitive lips actually touch the rim of the cup and sip. Better yet, find a reusable cup for your beverages. Americans use 2,500,000 plastic bottles every hour and most are trashed.   Keep bamboo or stainless-steel cutlery on hand to use at fast food joints instead of greasy plastic ware or fingers.   If you must use plastic, make sure it is rated #1 or #2 (printed on the bottom.)   In Oklahoma communities that actually promote recycling, only those plastics can be recycled.

If we all make small positive changes, it will make a big positive change to the earth.

Hey Oklahoma.   Clean up those roadsides.

Happy Earth Day Y'all.